I woke unready to alarm. I wanted to sleep more but did not listen. Stuck to the programme. Shower, coffee, fried egg. Grim weather and I’m not quite feeling topless… I wear decorative tights instead.
I arrive on site with a friend, but the atmosphere is less than inviting and she quickly leaves. Messy, chaotic and as a man I talk to describes it – this is the front line of Occupy. It’s rather a masculine territory and somewhat uncouth. The ground is just that – muddy ground. The sofa is muddy too. An open tent we find where people are making breakfast has the appearance of a homeless shelter because that is what it is. People who Occupy are living outdoors, camping in a public place. Some of them were rough sleepers before and bring that to the camp. It’s probably more of a home to them than previous arrangements, certainly there is community, and purpose if you care about that. Unfortunately they do not all have allegiance to a common mission to ‘be the 99% taking on the 1%’. This causes tensions and as I wait for Steve an eviction is slowly manifesting not without a struggle.
3 hours after I arrived movement is occurring; we are celebrating St George’s Day, and some of the guys dressed in improvised tunics and beholding makeshift swords are set to slay the mythical dragon. That is the several statues of dragons placed strategically around the city of London. We have leaflets to hand the public regarding the cause.
There is an awkward start to the dragon tour as one of us is a little pissed and inadvertently manages to knock down a passer-by in his enthusiasm. The others are very unimpressed particularly as police are within view. It turns out however that the man who was knocked off balance is probably more pissed than his unwitting assailant.
A few times on this trip I am unsure of my company; some are rowdy, unruly, shouting with little forethought… yet they also have a fighting spirit necessary for the front line. They are positive, jovial; they spread a message of change for the common good; connect with people, and when on form they get public support. They are active in wishing to improve their and others’ lot. This is a beautiful thing and I feel a sense of camaraderie with them.
The night before I consider they may imagine me an imposter – ‘an infiltrator’ as there are many it seems. Any significant movement challenging the bedrock of an elite’s hold on society may expect to be spied on. It is when reading about the lengths authorities have gone to to suppress and divert the Hollie Greig (Scottish woman with Downs Syndrome sexually abused as a child by men in family plus paedophile ring including key pillars of community – some pretty high up; http://www.holliedemandsjustice.org/) case in Scotland and now England that this occurs to me. Unless one is actually sleeping alongside the Occupiers in a tent, I guess there may be suspicion towards you, but I have faith this is not insurmountable.
My connection with Occupy London began last week when I walked into their site requesting to be photographed topless with ‘Reclaim Your Love’ painted on my front (http://spiritedbodies.com/2012/04/15/reclaim-your-love/). They liked my drift and collaboration seemed appropriate.
St George’s Day however is drizzly, cold and with much waiting around I am resolved there will be no semi-nude action today which I have earmarked for hanging out with these guys instead. I want to get to know them and get a feel for my place amongst them if any, if I am to expose myself with them meaningfully and even help them to gain publicity. It’s a personal act which comes from within, so the weather really consolidates a need to get to grips with the whole scenario (before baring myself), which happens to include seeing it in all its murkiness.
I can tell Steve is anxious I may be put off but I respond that it’s as well to be familiar, and I understand we all have tricky days. I’d rather get to know them than wade in less aware.
I am curious to meet the womenfolk of Occupy. One who has been there throughout the Winter and moved from St Pauls to the site in Finsbury Square tells me when she has left she will write up her experience. I would like to read that.
We traverse the City from The Royal Courts of Justice where we temporarily join up with Hollie Greig supporters and those wishing to transform the justice system, to Guildhall, Temple Church and London Bridge. I am pleased to see this day through with all its grey areas and learning curves. I have spent some time which fed my soul for being with fellow citizens to demand a fairer future for all. I stuck through ugly moments to see the brighter side of those I could have judged. Afterwards I made my way to a job and the difference in quality of energy was palpable – to be back within the mainstream (of corruption?) somehow (Moving Picture Company – a major animation studio). Not a bad job, just well, not as enlivening to be standing still to be sculpted, than actively reaching out with higher purpose.
Talking to different Occupiers it is obvious that as well as shared principles, they each have personal reasons for being there, as I have mine. I look forward to the right and good spontaneous action to come.
One more thing about the difference between Occupiers who live on Occupy territory, and those who actually control the financial side of Occupy but from the comfort of solid homes… I must admit my own ignorance here. I understand there are tensions between these 2. I happen to have met with these front-line tent-site dwellers (first). They have my heart-felt support. When I first visited the St Paul’s site in Autumn I was moved by their presence and dedication. Amidst chaotic elements signs of organised intelligence were strongly apparent too. I would not so far choose to have that lifestyle myself though knew I wanted to support them in ways appropriate to me. It made me feel so glad that they gave enough of a shit to be there; it brings something very human and real to London (or anywhere). It feels like they are reclaiming the soul of our city and that makes my heart sing!
As for internal or site/off-site politics we shall see. What strikes me now is the continuing optimism of these hardcore camping Occupiers; a feeling to hold on to and nourish.
One thought on “Taking to the Streets – my day with Occupy City of London”
This was really interesting to read. I know a little bit about Occupy in the Bay Area, and have friends who have participated in various marches and other events, but I never went. Now we’re in Toronto and although I know there is Occupy here, I haven’t seen any signs of it.